Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Not sure how I ended up on the sperm whale Wikipedia page (something to do with today's XKCD) but... man. Sperm whales kind of kick ass. They're like the Chuck Norris of the ocean.
Here are a few awesome facts about sperm whales:
Monday, April 9, 2012
Some authors - especially those in the speculative genres (sci-fi, fantasy) - create fictional languages for their stories.
J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) was one of the first authors to do this and probably still the most famous. Tolkien created two or three nearly-complete elven languages (loosely based on Finnish, Latin, and Welsh) as well as fragments of others for the dwarves and orcs. You can hear samples of elvish in the recent film trilogy.
Other examples of fictional languages made famous in film are Klingon (Star Trek), Na'vi (Avatar), and Dothraki (Game of Thrones). Novel artificial languages like Esperanto, Interlingua, and Lobjan have been created for real-world use, though the most successful and widely-spoken artificial language - Modern Hebrew - is a reconstruction from ancient texts.
One trending topic on the web is the abuse that women get for simply expressing their opinions in public. Abi at Making Light has posted a rant about it.
If you don’t believe it happens, gentlemen, I dare you: choose a female name and log onto a gaming board, or a deep geek IRC channel, or a heated political discussion. Disagree with the common herd and see what you get back. Then do the same with a male name. And then remember that you’re being kicked on undamaged flesh; it’s much worse when there’s already a deep bruise there from all the charming things people do in meatspace, too.
Here's the thing. I have no problem playing any gender or sexuality in virtual space. I routinely gender-bend in tabletop and computer games. But what Abi is suggesting never even occurred to me. It blows my mind that it didn't.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
This post is exactly what it says on the tin. Indie/story games are the new hotness, but most gamers still play the old standards - D&D, White Wolf, etc. If you like what indie games do but still love traditional tabletop RPGs, what can you do?
As it turns out, lots.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Got my first smartphone today. It's Verizon's HTC Rezound: an attractive, competent Android device.
The first thing you notice about the Rezound is HTC's proprietary Sense UI. Google may have done a good job building its mobile OS, but the stock interface looks like a five-year-old Linux desktop. Without access to Sense, I would seriously have considered buying a Trophy, the only Verizon Windows Phone.1
Speaking of Linux... there is a crap-ton of configuration you have to do to get an Android phone to work the way you want. If you like that kind of thing, the Rezound will make you very happy. The process was fairly intuitive, but a little more onscreen help would have been nice, especially for the fiddliest of the options.
Features: the thing is beefy. It's got a 1.5 GHz processor, which puts it at about a third the power of my laptop. I've got it set on balanced power consumption and I haven't noticed any significant slowdown. It's also got 1GB of RAM and 32GB storage (split between built-in flash and a removable SD card), so it's pretty much top of the line for smartphones. The screen is a full 720p HD, making it the highest resolution 4" display not on an Apple product. The rear-facing 8MP camera takes incredibly sharp pictures. The front camera is 2MP and is webcam-quality; it's good enough of Skype and that's about it.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
So, a while back, the government decided to hand over a number of programs to private and religious charities. One of these was a program to support victims of human trafficking and slavery, including sex slavery. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops bid for and received nearly all of the money allocated for that goal.
So far so good. The Catholic Church has a history of fighting for social justice. The problem was that the Bishops couldn't actually carry out the work themselves. So they subcontracted to a host of religious and secular nonprofits. That wasn't an ideal situation, but having a nonprofit doling out money instead of a government bureaucracy was't the end of the world. Perhaps some efficiency was lost, but the money still got more or less where it needed to go.
However, there was a catch: the USCCB required that any subcontracting organization receiving the money could not offer contraceptive or abortion services or refer victims to those services - things that victims of sex trafficking would probably need.1 Which, again, if it was just the Catholic Church's money, would have been dumb but within their rights. Where things broke down was that the money was coming from the federal government, being monopolized by the USCCB, and then being doled out with additional, religiously-motivated restrictions that hampered the performance of the organizations actually trying to help people who had been forced into slavery.
The organizations actually doing the work could have been getting the funds directly from the U.S. government if the USCCB hadn't bid for and won them - for work it wasn't even prepared to do. The Bishops were placing themselves in the middle and limiting the effectiveness of the program and what the people on the ground were able to do. Which is why a federal court judge just ruled that the Bishops were in the wrong and that they could not limit or gag subcontractors if they wanted to continue to receive federal funds.
Which brings me to my point. The Bishops - and many religious conservatives - are trying to portray the government's policies on contraception coverage as an issue of religious freedom. But your religious freedom ends where mine - and my rights and personal autonomy - begin. The anti-contraceptive folks don't just want to not be required to use or pay for their own contraception. They want to be able to deny anyone downstream of them access as well.
Freedom can only exist on an individual basis. Whenever we let one person abridge another person's rights, we effectively take away those rights. It may seem unfair to require a person to, for example, rent an apartment to a gay couple or hire a person married to someone of a different race, but the alternative - allowing wanton discrimination by employers, charities, and places of business - is far worse.
1 Federal funds can almost never be used to provide abortion services anyway, but contraception and referral are both allowed.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Back when Team Fortress 2 came out, I gave its art design ... mixed reviews. Even after the "meet the ___" videos clarified that the Demoman was a [joke] token black guy rather than an offensive Middle-Eastern stereotype, I still contend that the game comes up short of the absolute minimum diversity a modern video game ought to have.
Some people have been trying to address that, including video game artist Shaylyn Hamm, who has produced some wonderful female versions of the TF2 characters. The thing is, looking at these, you can barely believe they didn't think of 'em when they were originally designing the game.
The TF2 art style is highly stylized, extremely iconic early 20th Century. Well, what's more iconic than Rosie the Riveter? The designs on that page - engineer, spy, medic, heavy - are incredible and evocative and just as appropriate for the period as any of the original male characters.1
Team Fortress 2 is a great game with incredible art direction. But they still missed a big opportunity when they decided on a [nearly] all white male cast.
1 Even the female heavy, though not particularly period... look, I went to school in the Midwest. I knew women built like that. She's convincing to me.
I haven't logged on in months. It's better to just let the account die than have people thinking I'm not responding to them. Karen pulled the plug on her own account a long time ago.
It's kind of nice, actually. Not thinking there's something out there I should be monitoring/updating, that requires me to be on a computer for even more time in the day.
... it's not like someone who wants to find me on the internet is going to have a problem.
Monday, March 19, 2012
I think I may have overestimated the quality of Big 12 basketball this year. Kansas really should have lost to Purdue.
Ohio State, Kentucky, and UNC still looking strong, though.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Kentucky, Misery, Bucknuts, 'Heels.
And that's about as much as I care about college basketball this year. My team started 15-3 and finished 2-12, so bear with me.
Maybe next year?